Free ‘Willy’ IRL?

If you’ve yet to notice from any of my posts, I love animals. Cats, of course, but whales run a very close second on my most loved list, particularly orcas. I find them incredibly

orca-feeding-opener-615

Photo by Paul Nicklen for National Geographic

fascinating and they truly are an incredible species. Did you know that they actually hunt as a pack for food, using sophisticated techniques? Or that they are technically classified as part of the oceanic dolphin family? How about the fact that each specific grouping or pod has its own set of vocal behaviors, ie their own languages? The coolest fact is that they are apex predators, putting them on top of the oceans food chain.

This past week SeaWorld made the announcement that they are banning their Orca Breeding Program. SeaWorld, will instead put its focus on ” natural orca encounters rather than theatrical shows, as part of our ongoing commitment to education, marine science research and the rescue of marine animals.” They  will be joining in a partnership with
the Humane Society of the United States which will focus on rescue 160316_SeaWorld_Sidebaroperations for marine mammals; raise awareness of animal welfare; offer humane food options and ; only serve sustainable seafood.
I have mixed feelings about this announcement. I am thrilled they will be ending their breeding program, but I am also disturbed that the option for ocean rehabilitation or of sea sanctuaries (or sea pens) has not been put on the table. These sea pens would be large reserved spaces in the ocean off the coast, closed off by nets or something similar, in order for marine animals held in captivity to be rehabilitated to the ocean life. These animals have been in captivity for so long that it seems right that they should live out their lives in their natural habitat.

Something else that perked my interest was the way in which SeaWorld made their announcement. The video released about the announcement on the SeaWorld Youtube page, is oddly uplifting. The video focuses on the new, beneficial, educational features of the park, turning the end of their breeding program into something positive. At the end of the day however, it is their legal defeat and new legislation in California, calling for these changes, that is at the core of this revolution. The way they are advertising their new seaworl.png
announcement makes me think that they are trying to make people believe (at least the people not keeping up with this legal situation) that they wanted to end the breeding program; that they collectively decided it was best not to continue with the program and that everyone, whales included, would be better off without it.

Their Twitter post also tries to claim this change in policy as a choice. There was no choice in the matter, the change is due to the new legislation put forth in California.

 

Though the whales living at SeaWorld won’t get their “Free Willy” ending, they are one step closer to a better life. This announcement has made for some interesting conversation. What does this mean for the orcas in captivity? Will they ever be moved to a sea sanctuary? What’s in store for SeaWorld if their main attraction will eventually ‘die off’ without their breeding program? How do we feel about their media campaign about this announcement? I’m interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this. Let me know what you think in the comments!

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